Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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What Love Is — and Is Not

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Folks, as my new romantic fantasy novel CHANGING FACES is out as an e-book, perhaps this would be a good time to discuss what love is — and what love decidedly isn’t.

First, love is about caring more for the other person than it is about yourself. It means when you get up in the morning, your first coherent thought should be something along the lines of, “How are you, honey?” or doing something nice for your partner if you can.

Love is about many other good things, mind. Sacrifice. Shared goals and dreams. A willingness to share your mind, spirit and heart with another worthy person, and the belief that in so doing, you will become expanded by the experience rather than diminished.

I like to think that Allen and Elaine’s story in CHANGING FACES speaks to all of that, and that it has a moral and message (for those of us who need such)…but is a ripping good romance otherwise (for those of us who just want that). (See, I split the middle that way.)

What is love most decidedly not about? Materialism. Giving someone stuff is not about love; it’s about self-aggrandizement and/or the need for your partner to accumulate stuff.

Granted, a small, well-chosen, thoughtful gift can work wonders…but do you know why that is? It’s because it means you spent enough time, energy, and thought on giving just the right gift.

It’s the time, energy, and thought that you put into it, in other words, that makes that gift work. Not the gift itself.

Now, is that a chicken or the egg sort of question? I don’t know.

But what I do know is, the best gift you can possibly give to someone on Valentine’s Day or any day is the gifts of your time and attention. Giving those gifts is exceptionally meaningful; you make memories that way, good ones, and thus your life becomes enriched in the process.

(Break for naked self-promotion. You can look away if you must; I won’t get angry if you do.)

Anyway, if you want to know my further thoughts about love, and this blog isn’t enough, please do go find a copy of CHANGING FACES and start reading. (It’s only ninety-nine cents for a week or so. And it might make you think, or care, or start wondering how you, too, can find a good person to share your life with…isn’t that a win/win?)

(End naked self-promo, already in progress…)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 11, 2017 at 5:00 am

Why Can’t Female Reporters Make — and Correct — Bad Mistakes?

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Folks, I’m frustrated right now. I just read the story of former major league baseball sideline reporter Emily Austen (see link here from the story at AOL: http://www.aol.com/article/2016/06/10/mlb-sideline-reporter-fired-after-making-several-inappropriate-c/21393140/), who said a number of derogatory things during a social media video. This video was made on the Barstool Sports Live Facebook broadcast, and while I don’t like any of the things Ms. Austen said, none of them were so abhorrent to my mind as warranting her immediate dismissal from her sideline duties without at least giving her a chance to rectify her error.

Here’s a bit from the Business Insider story (carried at AOL at the address above):

During the broadcast, Austen made several racist and anti-Semitic comments. At one point, she said she “didn’t even know Mexicans were that smart,” then later said that everyone knows the “Chinese guy is always the smartest guy in math class.” While recalling stories from when she worked as a bartender, she called Jewish people “stingy.” She also referred to Kevin Love as a “little b—-.”

Edited to add:

I haven’t a clue why any sportscaster, male or female, worth her salt wouldn’t realize that when the camera is on, she has to watch what she says. With a beer, without a beer, she should be professional.

Much of what she said is insensitive at best, outright racist at worst. (Saying that she “didn’t even know that Mexicans were that smart” is ludicrous. Doesn’t she know any history at all?)

I don’t approve of this behavior. At all. But I also don’t understand why a male sportscaster like Curt Schilling, formerly of ESPN, was given chance after chance to rectify his own public off-the-job comments before he finally was booted out.

Now back to our regularly scheduled post, already in progress…

I am not a fan of this sort of behavior, folks. But I also don’t think it’s something that warrants an immediate dismissal.

Consider, please, that Ms. Austen was probably having a beer. She was off-duty, discussing her job as a sideline reporter for both the Tampa Bay Rays (MLB) and for the Orlando Magic (NBA), and was probably trying to make “good copy” for the folks on Barstool Sports. Male sports personalities push the envelope all the time, and only get suspensions, at best…yet Ms. Austen got the axe right away, without any possibility of coming back to say, “I know I went too far. I’m sorry.”

Note that to my mind, especially out of context, I don’t have a problem with her saying these obnoxious things as much as I have a problem with her being immediately booted from her job without any possibility of correcting the obnoxious things she said.

I’d only fire Ms. Austen if she refused to try to correct any of this. (What she said about the Asian guy in math class, while not necessarily a bad thing, is still a stereotype. My Japanese-American friend would be happy to tell you all about how much effort she put into her studies; she loved school, and still enjoys learning things, but effortless, it was not. And math was not her best subject, either.**)

This, to my mind, smells more like political correctness than a sensible personnel decision. If Ms. Austen was good at her work — and I’m going to assume she was, or Barstool Sports wouldn’t have wanted to have her as part of their Facebook Live broadcast after hours — she should’ve been talked with, and she should’ve been allowed to make amends. Giving her a chance to grow, to change, to learn that people are individuals and not stereotypes…that is a far better way to handle the situation than just firing her.

This way, what does Ms. Austen learn? That male sports personalities can be outrageous, but female sports personalities had best watch their backs?

In short, while what Ms. Austen said was not flattering, it did not warrant immediate dismissal.

Fox Sports Florida (and Fox Sports Sun, who together were her employers) should be ashamed of themselves. They at minimum should be called before the EEOC, and be prepared to defend their actions.

And in the meantime, Ms. Austen should do some volunteer work with the poor, the disabled, and those who are otherwise disenfranchised in this society. She’d learn a lot, I think…and never again would she be tempted to make such ridiculously stupid and bigoted statements as she did on Barstool Sports’ live broadcast on Facebook.

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**Yes, I know that Chinese people and Japanese people and Korean people and Laotian people and Vietnamese people are all different people, different cultures, different ethnicities, and all have to be taken for themselves. But the stereotype I’m referring to — that Asians are better at math than anyone else — is still real, and it’s done a lot of harm. (End rant.)

Scott Park’s Story Explains Why We Must All Challenge Our Assumptions

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About a year ago, college basketball fan Scott Park was gaining notoriety for missing a million dollar half-court shot. As he looked healthy, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Mr. Park was mocked by thousands upon thousands of people after he missed that half-court shot.

But there was much more to this story, which ESPN found out. They made a video for their E:360 program, which was also aired yesterday on ESPN’s Outside the Lines…and because I saw that, I felt the need to discuss it further. (While I haven’t figured out how to link directly to OTL’s feed, I can send you in the direction of OTL’s “extra” footage discussing why both Bob Ley and reporter Ryan McGee found Scott Park’s story to be both relevant and inspirational.)

Granted, once I saw the story myself, it’s obvious why Scott Park’s story is inspirational. This is a man who has nearly died — not once, but twice. (See McGee’s article from March of this year for further details.) He suffers from a condition called CAPS — otherwise known as catastrophic antiphospholipid syndrome — and because of it, he’s already endured a kidney transplant and suffered serious and life-threatening consequences.**

Scott Park’s story is inspirational. (We need more stories like this in this world.) But we’d not know about it except for two things: first, Scott Park missed that half-court shot, and because he looked healthy people made fun of him for doing so. And second, the reporter who posted the clip of Mr. Park missing that shot wrote a follow-up story to explain just why we should be ashamed of ourselves for jumping to conclusions. That got other writers, including ESPN’s Ryan McGee, interested in Scott Park and following along with Mr. Park’s story of persistence, faith, hope, and chronic struggles against his disabling conditions — though the way Scott Park carried himself during the E:360 piece (shown on OTL yesterday), it’s obvious that he is emphasizing the “half-full” part of the equation.

Simply put: While he may be disabled today, he is a lucky man. He has a caring, loving, and devoted wife and family, and many good friends (one who donated his kidney in order to give Scott Park more time on this Earth). He loves college basketball, even now. He holds no animus toward anyone, including the reporter who posted the clip of Park’s abortive half-court shot effort. And no one should feel sorry for him, even with his health challenges, physical therapy, and all…because he’s had a good life, he’s still in there fighting, and — maybe this is leap of faith on my part — life is all about what you do with it.

Scott Park has done a great deal with his life. And that’s what no one knew when the clip of him missing the half-court shot was taken.

Fortunately, we did learn “the rest of the story” with regards to Scott Park. But we don’t always know everyone’s stories, and there’s an awful lot of assumptions going on. We live in a world where it seems everyone rushes to judgment, and sometimes, that judgment is plain, flat, utterly wrong.

So, the lessons I would like you to take away from this are these:

  1. Challenge your assumptions. Challenge them often.
  2. Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes.
  3. Be as charitable and forgiving as you can. Because some day, you may just need some of that charity and forgiveness for yourself.
  4. Do not assume that the initial narrative framing is correct.
  5. And, finally — DO YOUR RESEARCH.

If you do all that, you are much less likely to be an obnoxious, uncaring, unfeeling butthead. (End rant.)

————

**At the moment, Mr. Park is in the hospital, recovering from a series of strokes. He is alert, aware, in good spirits, doing physical therapy, and hoping to regain the use of his right arm and to walk again. Wish him well, will you?

Two Articles of Interest to Share…

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Folks, I’ve been reading a number of interesting things lately, and today seems like a good time to share two of the most thought-provoking posts.

First, from the world of publishing, is an interview my friend Chris Nuttall did for the Observer. Chris talks about his career path as an indie writer, and discusses the insights he’s learned along the way — including the importance of cover art.

Do take a look at this interview, will you? (Mind, if you’re an author or editor or have anything to do with publishing, you’ll enjoy it a lot more…but even if you aren’t, you should find something that rivets your attention.)

Next, while I was rooting around the Observer, I found this post about the 2016 United States presidential election cycle, and about how it’s being actively shaped by corporate media interests to drive business interests. It is the author Ryan Holiday’s contention that neither Bernie Sanders nor Donald Trump would be doing anywhere near as well if they weren’t being propped up, de facto, by the media because the media wants drama with a capital D. And the more serious candidates (like Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush) just don’t give them “dirty laundry” the way they want and need (to misquote Don Henley’s old song).

Worse, because Clinton and Bush don’t give the media DRAMA, they aren’t getting covered in a substantial/substantive way.

Look. I love reality TV, in its place. But United States elections are not the time for reality TV.

As Mr. Holiday says in his article:

…atypical candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are effectively subsidized by the media in order to provide the story lines those outlets require to create the compelling spectacles they need to keep the cycle going and audiences hooked.

It is in this last area that we see the highest manipulation. In Donald Trump we have a candidate who has received so much  media coverage that he did not need to run his first TV campaign ad until January—some seven months after entering the race and five months after the first televised debate. Has anyone in history gotten as much free media coverage as Donald Trump?

Mr. Holiday’s article is a must-read, especially if you’re wondering just how and why it is that we’re stuck in a poisonous, destructive election cycle with very little focus on issues that matter and way too much focus on style and DRAMA.  (Note that “drama” is Mr. Holiday’s word, but it fits so well, I had to use it, too.)

Then, after you’ve read it, ask yourself this — is this any way to run a democracy?

Advice for Valentine’s Day, 2016 Version

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Folks, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. And I wanted to write a few words, just in case you haven’t read my two previous blogs on the subject (which, for the record, are here and here).

Too many people get caught up in conspicuous consumption on Valentine’s Day, because commercials and books and movies and nearly every possible thing says, “You must buy a whole lot of unnecessary things, or your partner won’t know you love them!” Even if you walk into a grocery store, there will be reminders that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so have you bought your cake/roses/card/fill-in-the-blank yet? (The most inventive one I’ve seen around here was over at Festival Foods in Mount Pleasant, where they’re offering a Valentine’s Day dinner, catered, that you can pick up for something like $42. That might actually be useful, and didn’t bother me…but I can see where it might bother someone who feels pressured to do something for Valentine’s Day.)

The thing is, as I’ve said before, Valentine’s Day is not for conspicuous consumption. It is for love. But somehow, in our consumer-driven society, we’ve gotten it into our heads that the only way to love someone is to buy him or her a whole lot of stuff…and that’s just not right.

Let me give you a few examples.

The best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had was in 2003. Why was it so good? Well, Michael was with me, then, and the two of us had a great and quiet dinner at home, watched some of his favorite “Danger Mouse” videos (Michael loved them, and I enjoyed ’em, too — mostly because I liked seeing how he reacted to them), and then retired to “none of your business land.”

Note that this didn’t cost us anything. We already had the “Danger Mouse” videos. We already had the food. We already had anything else we needed in the house…we didn’t need roses, or wine, or fancy chocolates, or even sushi (something Michael and I both enjoyed, and I continue to appreciate), because we had each other and that’s what counted.

And my second favorite Valentine’s Day was in 2004. Michael and I had just moved from San Francisco to Iowa, and were living in a motel. The move had been stressful and we were close to flat broke, and finding work was a challenge that we hadn’t expected.

So, what did Michael do? This time, we went to a scenic overlook outside Davenport on I-80 with a couple of sub sandwiches, some soda, and sat and talked. It was the middle of winter, but I didn’t feel cold…and I don’t think he did, either. We felt the world was full of possibilities, because we were with each another…and I was touched that Michael remembered I liked spicy-hot peppers on my sub (something he wouldn’t touch because of long-term stomach distress).

You see, if a guy remembers what you like, that is sexy to a woman. Michael knew that.

Now, what did I do for these Valentine’s Day outings? (Maybe you’re asking this, and it’s a valid question.) Mostly, I was there and fully in the moment…yes, I’d asked Michael what he wanted on both days, and I’d actually tried to cook for him in 2003, but he wasn’t having it. (Mostly, Michael cooked for us, because he enjoyed it. And besides, he said I’d done too much for people as it was, over the years; now it was time someone did something for me.) I did suggest the “Danger Mouse” videos in 2003, and I probably suggested going out for subs in 2004…but for the most part, Michael made those outings happen.

So, to sum up…the important thing about Valentine’s Day, or any day, is for your partner to know that he or she is loved. Spending large amounts of money on a Pajamagram or a Vermont teddy bear or fancy chocolates (much though I enjoy that) is not necessary. Showing you care, that you pay attention, that you know what your partner likes…listening to him/her speak and asking intelligent questions (or giving intelligent answers)…being fully in that moment with him/her, with your cell phones/tablets off and your attention undivided…well, those are by far the best gifts you can give.

Don’t let the “must spend big money NOW!” narrative of the commercials blind you to this, OK?

Thoughts on David Bowie

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I woke to the news that musician and composer David Bowie passed away yesterday, on January 10, 2016. He was sixty-nine.

You might be asking, “So, Barb. Why does this concern you? Sure, you listened to Bowie’s recordings…but really, what was David Bowie to you, beyond a popular musician?”

Well, Bowie was a composer, an arranger, an actor, a husband, a father…and that’s only part of what he was.

But I’d rather talk about his music, if you don’t mind, because that’s what I understand the most.

Like most musicians, I was aware of David Bowie’s life and career.  His songs were different, in a way that’s hard to describe but easy to understand.

Somehow, in every song David Bowie ever wrote, he transmitted depth. He had it. And he could express it, in a way that seemed to get to the heart of the matter — a way that few other musicians, no matter how gifted, could do.

Those are rare qualities, even in a creative person. And other creative people tend to celebrate that, whenever we find it, even if the person in question is doing something that’s quite a bit different than themselves.

Much has been said about David Bowie’s image, which was reinvented every few years. Much has been said about Bowie’s gift of self-promotion — though, granted, most of that was said long before he passed away.

(Mind, being able to promote yourself isn’t a bad thing. It actually is a very good thing, especially in today’s day and age where the media has fractured and it’s hard to get anyone to pay attention to anything you’re doing. But I digress.)

Little is being said about David Bowie’s true gift, which was depth of feeling. Or of his secondary gift, which was of perspective.

And I wish more was, because that would be much truer to David Bowie’s life and career.

But depth is hard to talk about. Perspective is even harder.

It’s much easier to talk about David Bowie, the artist. Or David Bowie, the self-promoter and showman. Or David Bowie, the philanthropist — though, granted, this last is also getting very short shrift at the moment.

What I want to discuss is elusive, but is at the heart of what art actually is.

The way you see something, the way you express something, is deeply personal. Very few of us can express something in a way nearly everyone can understand at the same time — though in different ways.

David Bowie had that gift of universality, along with depth and perspective. And it’s those three things that are being overlooked in the mountain of tributes that David Bowie’s family is rightfully receiving at the moment.

I mourn that David Bowie has passed from this Earth. But I’m glad he was here, and shared his art with us.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 11, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Check Out Sally Cronin’s Blog Today…and Other Observations

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Folks, before I forget, I wanted to let you know that author Sally Cronin featured my books A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE and AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE over at her popular and very busy blog, Smorgasbord Invitation, today. She has a series going called “Christmas Grotto,” where she points out books she thinks her readers might like — I couldn’t be happier that she did this. (Thank you so much, Sally!)

Now for the other observations.

This past week was frustrating for me on a personal level, because my computer was down. I was using my mother’s computer during off-hours, so I could maintain a web presence to a degree and also get a little editing done. (I couldn’t do heavy stuff, but at least I could do a little bit to keep myself from going stir-crazy.)

Fortunately, my computer was repaired on Friday afternoon by the good folks over at Milwaukee PC in Sturtevant. (Well, it technically might be Mount Pleasant. Either way.) It came in exactly at the price they told me it would — no surprises — and it got done a little faster than we’d hoped.

But my transitory personal frustration was dwarfed to near-insignificance when I found out about the latest mass shooting in the United States, this time in Southern California. (Since it is my policy not to identify  shooters in such events unless I feel them to be mentally deranged to such a degree they might be seen as pitiable figures, I will not be identifying the two known shooters here.) I don’t understand why anyone would shoot and kill fourteen people, wounding twenty-one others, at a holiday party.

There are hints, perhaps many of them, that this mass shooting was caused by people who may have been radicalized by elements of ISIL overseas. I can’t speak to that, but I will say that a shooting at such an innocuous place is scary — which, of course, is exactly what ISIL wants. (Why else take up such a stance in the first place?)

Which brings me back to two subjects — why I write, and why I think reading something funny right now might be in order.

Look. I write because I have stories to tell. (Not just in the Elfyverse, either, though certainly many of my stories have been or will be set there.) Plus, I like to make people laugh. I like to divert people for a little while, so they won’t think so much about their problems.

The two books Sally pointed out to her readers, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE, are both funny urban fantasies with romance, some mysterious goings on, and some ghosts. (Hey, when I write a book, I put my all into it.) There’s a lot going on in the Elfy duology, but at its heart it’s a simple love story between two misunderstood teens — Bruno the Elfy, and Sarah his mostly-human girlfriend. They come together because they have common interests, because their minds call to one another — and only after that do their bodies start to call to one another, too.

That is my type of comfort book, which is probably why I wrote it in the first place. (Though trying to psychoanalyze yourself after the fact is an exercise doomed to failure, isn’t it?)

I know I’m proud of my Elfy duology, and I’m glad they are both out there for people to read. I hope during this time of great stress in the world that maybe reading a funny book will help you feel a little better.

Because somehow, we need to remember that life contains good things, too. (Or as my late husband Michael used to put it — “Enjoy yourself, live your life — and spite the bastards.”)